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African Migration, Global Inequalities, and Human Rights:
Connecting the Dots

William Minter

Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, Uppsala, 2011

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As an illustrative exercise, this annex examines what it might mean if migration were to be taken seriously as showing the need for fundamental changes in common development goals, rather than only a separate unconnected issue. The Millennium Development Goals which now define measures of global progress for 2015 are defined as "anti-poverty" goals52, and do not mention inequality. And, with the exception of goal 8, which calls for a vaguely defined "global partnership for development," they all apply only at a national level, and are applied exclusively to developing countries.

Yet the failure to find sustainable solutions to protection of the rights of migrants and the social conflicts related to migration is a constant reminder that global human development does not depend only on developments within individual countries. Relationships between countries, and in particular, the levels of gross inequality that impel high levels of migration, also require measurable goals for progress, even if achievement of those goals faces formidable obstacles.

While these are unlikely to be included in the least common denominator of official consensus, and are undoubtedly more difficult to measure than national-level goals, such a thought experiment should be part of the agenda for expanding the debate. Yet even current efforts to expand the scope of measurements of societal progress fail to consider this transnational dimension.53

Such transnational and relational measurements should include measures of transnational inequality, measures for developed countries that might make the concept of "partnership" less vague, and measures for countries of origin, focused on the effectiveness of their policies on emigration and the diaspora.

The most important, and also the most unlikely to be incorporated into official targets, is the level of transnational inequality. At a global scale, notes inequality expert Branko Milanovic (2011: 151152), global inequality is now at an all-time high of 70 Gini points, greater than in highly unequal countries such as South Africa and Brazil. Although the rising level of aggregate inequality is now being held back by rapid growth in China and India, inequality both between countries and within countries continues to grow. The ratio between the average income of the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent is about 80 to 1. According to the 2010 Human Development Report, the average income

52. As noted by Milanovic (2011, 84), addressing "poverty," with the aura of charity, is more congenial for the rich than addressing "inequality," which potentially raises the issue of justice.

53. See, above all, the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi 2009). Other sources include Marten (2010) and the OECD project on "Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies" (http://www.wikiprogress .org).


of OECD countries in 2008 ($37,077), was 4.7 times that of the developing Arab states ($7,861) and 18.1 times that of Sub-Saharan Africa ($2,050). Life expectancy of 80.3 years for OECD countries contrasts with 69.1 for developing Arab countries and 52.7 for Sub-Saharan Africa. For mean years of schooling, the comparison is 11.4 to 5.7 and 4.5, respectively.

Such high levels of inequality make continued immigration on a scale far larger than sustainable, with much of it forced by economic need, unavoidable, regardless of the levels of restriction imposed or the attempts at management of migration. Despite rich-country reluctance even to consider setting goals to reduce inequality, that adds a practical incentive to the moral imperative for greater global equality. It also provides a rationale for measuring inequality not only at the global level but within major regional migration systems. Changes in both policies and results will depend on changes in the political and economic power of developing countries themselves, as illustrated in the rising prominence of the BRICS54 emerging powers. Despite recent increases in growth rates, Africa's bargaining power is much more limited. But it is already time to build a conceptual framework for more ambitious goals, with measurable indicators, that move beyond the Millennium Development Goals.

Hypothetically, if one were to take as a goal "reducing global inequality by half by the year 2050," that could serve as a baseline for similar goals within more limited groups of nations. At a global level, using the Gini index as a measure, that would mean reducing the level of global inequality to 35 Gini points, slightly higher than levels of inequality within most European countries, but lower than that in the United States. Or, taking ratios of average income, this would mean reducing the level of inequality between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, to 9 to 1 instead of 18 to 1.

Defining similar measures for groups of related countries could contribute to discussions linking migration issues with those of the related development trajectories of the countries involved. Such measures, for example, would be relevant for evaluating the "Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean" announced by the European Union in March 2011. Other sets of regions linked to Africa for which such transnational measures would be relevant include, at the most general level, the OECD countries and Africa, European Union and Africa, North America and Africa, and the non-African Arab world in relation to East, West, and Central Africa. Within Africa, in addition to the levels of inequality within the continent as a whole, the levels of inequality between North Africa and East, West, and Central Africa and those between South Africa and the remainder of Sub-Saharan Africa are both

54. Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.


particularly relevant for migration and the equity of development outcomes55. In each case, the measure of progress should be demonstrable success in reducing the ratios of inequality between regions at different levels of development.

Focusing on transnational inequality and migration could also facilitate exploring measures of "partnership" which are less vague than those now included in Millennium Development Goal 8. The first target listed for that goal, "develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system," could, ironically, easily be a prescription for increased inequality. In addition to the familiar indicators already included on aid, market access, and debt sustainability, indicators such as the following could shed light on the realities of partnership:

 Supplement and compare measures of Official Development Assistance with tracking of illicit financial flows from developing to developed countries. The non- governmental organization Global Financial Integrity (http://www.gfip. org) has begun to build the evidence base for such measures, identifying some US$6.5 trillion in such flows out of the developing world from 2000 through 2008 (more than 7 times ODA for the same period). Data on the destination of these flows requires reforms in developed countries on transparency for financial reporting. But judging the net transfer of resources relevant to global inequality is not feasible without their inclusion.

 When estimating the financial effects of migration on origin and destination countries, include not only remittances but also gains and losses due to migration of skilled labor. Using the concept of "migration balances," researcher Thomas Melonio (2008) has proposed such a comparative measure, and suggested that destination countries should assume the obligation (additional to existing levels of development aid) of compensating origin countries for such losses of skilled labor.

 There are elaborate measures of policies for integration of migrants in European and some other developed countries ( But this should be supplemented by measures that also include the level of openness in relation to the structural demand for migration resulting from transnational inequalities. One such measure, for example, might be the ratio of regular immigrants to the total of irregular immigrants, deportations, and interceptions. Including deportations and interceptions as well as irregular immigrants would ensure that the measure would not be improved by increased restrictions and enhanced enforcement measures that simply displace potential irregular immigrants to other countries.

55. Milanovic (2011: 176-186) gives brief summaries of such comparisons within the United States, the European Union, Asia, and Latin America, but not for Africa or regions involved in African migration systems.


For countries of origin of migrants, probably the most relevant measures are simply indicators of whether and how fast they are closing the development gap with potential destination countries for migrants. More specific measures of success, with respect to migration, might include the subjective measure of reducing the number of people who say they want to leave (as measured by the Gallup Potential Net Migration Index, available on and the more objective measure of reducing the tertiary emigration rate of professionals leaving the country.

In terms of the contribution of the diaspora to development, in addition to the topics of remittances and investments stressed in recent World Bank reports (Ratha et al. 2011), attention could also be given to developing measures of constructive home country to diaspora relationships. This would, of course, require greater efforts to collect data on diaspora populations, including both initiatives by origin countries and collaboration between statistical agencies in origin and destination countries.

The failure of many countries to protect their diasporas has been starkly visible in the crisis of evacuation of migrants from Libya in 2011, as those left behind have been disproportionately those from Sub-Saharan Africa. The extent to which this is a failure only of capacity or also of will is not clear. But it is clear that few African countries have adequate consular facilities to protect their overseas nationals. Significant increases in such efforts would be a highly visible sign of progress, and perhaps even a candidate for indicators such as the ratio of consular officers to diaspora nationals.

Other measures that could be useful should the data be available might include:

 What proportion of emigrants retain citizenship ties to the country of origin? While this would reflect in part the availability of the option of dual citizenship, it would also be an indicator of the extent of loyalty and potential contributions to development in the home country.

 Measures of income and other development indicators for the set of people born in a country, including both residents and emigrants, as suggested by Clemens and Pritchett (2008). In terms of measuring human development, this would give equal weight to people born in a country, whether they move or stay.

 An appropriate complement to such a measure would be the levels of inequality between those in the diaspora and home-country residents. The greater the gap, the less likely that relationships with the diaspora would or should be viewed as sustainable contributions to national development.